Adult Protective Services: What You Need to Know

In the United States, Adult Protective Services (APS) provides protective social services to older adults (typically those aged 60 and older). They also help vulnerable adults and those with serious disabilities. Sometimes APS is referred to as "adult services."


In the United States, Adult Protective Services (APS) provides protective social services to older adults (typically those aged 60 and older). They also help vulnerable adults and those with serious disabilities. Sometimes APS is referred to as "adult services."

APS agencies are the adult equivalent of Child Protective Services and play a critical role in combating elder abuse and the abuse of other vulnerable adults. Such types of abuse can include:

  • Neglect and mistreatment
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Abandonment
  • Undue influence
  • Financial exploitation and scams
  • Financial abuse
  • Domestic violence

Abusers include health care providers, nursing home staff, caregivers, family members, fiduciaries, or conservators. APS can be called in for self-neglect, mental health concerns, or self-harm. They also investigate claims of suspected abuse and complaints against a long-term care facility.

History and Development of Adult Protective Services

The development of most APS agencies occurred before the federal coordination of elder abuse programmatic efforts like The Elder Justice Initiative. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), APS agencies developed from the ground up over the past several decades. They first emerged at the state and local levels and only recently received greater support from the federal government.

Adult Protective Services Today

Adult Protective Services agencies exist in every state and are normally administered at the local or county level.

Most states place their APS agencies within their Department of Social Services. Some APS agencies are placed within a state's Department of Health and Human Services. A few states, such as Ohio, limit Adult Protective Services to older adults. However, most states provide Adult Protective Services to vulnerable adults, dependent adults, and the elderly.

What Services Do APS Agencies Provide?

Upon receiving a report of abuse involving an older or vulnerable adult, an Adult Protective Services agency typically provides the following services:

  • Investigations
  • Evaluations of client risk and mental illness/impairment
  • Development and implementation of a case plan tailored to the victim
  • Counseling for the client and referrals to legal services
  • Assistance in connecting the client with additional services, such as medical care and benefits
  • Ongoing monitoring of the delivery of services

APS agencies also work closely with law enforcement. Criminal abuse against elderly or vulnerable adults is often uncovered while conducting investigations.

NAPSA Strategic Goals For APS

NAPSA works to strengthen APS at a national level. Their mission includes:

  • Operating an effective and inclusive organization
  • Advocacy and public policy
  • Establishing multi-disciplinary teams for elder abuse case reviews
  • Public education
  • Coordinating federal elder abuse laws with state laws
  • Research and data collection
  • Training
  • Maintaining a 24/7 elder abuse hotline

You can read their full program standards, code of ethics, and goals on their website.

Practice Guidelines and Principles Guiding APS Agencies

According to NAPSA, below are the main principles that guide APS agencies in the delivery of services to older or vulnerable adults:

  1. Do no harm
  2. The client is the first concern
  3. Don't impose their personal values on clients
  4. Recognize differences and be inclusive
  5. The least restrictive alternative should be used
  6. The family unit should be maintained wherever possible (if in the best interest of the client)
  7. The use of community-based services is preferred over institutions
  8. Blaming the victim should be avoided
  9. Use clear and professional boundaries
  10. Casework actions must be in the client's best interests if there are no expressed wishes
  11. Failure to provide adequate or appropriate services is worse than providing no services

Older adult clients have the following rights during APS investigations:

  1. Right to self-determination
  2. Right to informed consent
  3. Right to keep personal information confidential
  4. Right to receive information in a way the client can understand
  5. Right to be involved with developing their service plan (when possible)
  6. Right to independence

Additionally, NAPSA provides guidelines for voluntary service planning and involuntary service planning. "Involuntary service planning" occurs during emergencies, extreme risks, or when the client can't consent to services. NAPSA and APS believe that taking involuntary action should be a last resort.

Filing a Report With Adult Protective Services

If you file a report with Adult Protective Services, a trained APS agent will first screen the report's details. Then the agent will determine whether the report satisfies APS's eligibility requirements.

If so, the APS caseworker will be assigned to investigate the case and will contact and establish a relationship with the potential victim. In some states, a caseworker is legally required to:

  • Contact the potential victim
  • Meet with the potential victim in person
  • Establish contact within a certain number of days

California, for example, requires a caseworker to make immediate in-person contact in cases of imminent danger. For all other cases, contact must be made within 10 days.

Adult Protective Services Investigations

During the investigation, the caseworker will investigate the facts. Where appropriate, they will report any criminal activity to law enforcement.

However, unlike a traditional law enforcement investigation, APS caseworkers are trained to develop a relationship of trust with the potential victim. The caseworker will then create and explain a case plan tailored to the victim's needs.

Anonymous APS Reports

While laws vary from state to state, some states allow for APS reports to be submitted anonymously. Some states also protect the person making the report from civil and criminal liability as long as the report was made in good faith. Such laws also protect those initiating reports from any professional disciplinary action.

This is to encourage doctors or other medical professionals to report suspicions of abuse. They can make reports without fear of breaching any professional obligations of confidentiality or any privacy laws relating to medical records.

Contact your local Adult Protective Services office to initiate a report of older adult abuse or vulnerable adult abuse. NAPSA provides an APS locator on its webpage to assist in locating an office near you.

Additional Resources

  • For additional information on reporting older adult abuse, see FindLaw's Reporting Elder Abuse or the resources provided by the National Center on Elder Abuse.
  • For additional general information on older or vulnerable adult abuse, see FindLaw's Elder Abuse Overview.
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